Week 3: Justine

Justine walked through the Hong Kong International Airport. She had managed to get the last flight out of Hong Kong, to her great relief. She had not been certain that she would make it from Israel to Australia. Justine’s trip to Israel had been routine and uneventful. The novel coronavirus was not generally concerning. Within a week of arriving in Israel, however, Justine was not sure she could get back home. The upcoming pandemic had made its debut in the Asia-Pacific region.

As she made her way to her flight, Justine caught glimpses of a new reality - announcements over PA systems, caution signs, masks, obsessive sanitation, social-distancing, and all of the other emblems of a city in lockdown. The flight was nearly empty. On landing back home in Australia, Justine was now faced with a slew of decisions, ones which required insight and experience that few could be expected to possess.

Public events were cancelled to protect at-risk attendees. The severity of the novel coronavirus remained poorly understood, and face-to-face gatherings could be dangerous. As director of PJ Library in Australia, Justine Saidman works with her team to deliver children’s books to Jewish families, and schedule gatherings to bring these families together. These events are a crucial part of PJ Library’s mission to foster community and inter-generational engagement, infused with the traditions and values of Jewish culture. Now was not the time for hesitation or hand-wringing. Justine took action, and without a second thought, put public events on hold.

Justine knew well that crisis does not automatically reshape mediocrity into excellence. People put in positions of leadership are not always equipped for the role. A global pandemic does not come with years of advance warning, nor is it a routine event. There is no long history of experience and protocol to draw upon. The novel coronavirus is just that - novel - and so are all of the complications, challenges, and pitfalls that such a situation creates.

“It’s not like you’ve done this before. It’s not like you can go to the handbook. ‘Oh, in the last pandemic that I managed, this worked, this didn’t, so let’s learn from our failures, let’s fail forward.’ You can’t do that, it doesn’t exist.”

Equally vital to the survival of non-profits during the pandemic is the ability to help and be helped by peer organisations. This is where Justine sees a most puzzling phenomenon: in a community of philanthropic individuals, everyone seems to be looking for permission to reach out to each other. When she came on board to help host LaunchPad Leadership, Justine realised that the greater world of Jewish philanthropy was not as well-connected as it should be. In one of the online pod sessions, leaders were encouraged to share whatever they felt was important, and one of the participants related how they were introduced to a leader in another organisation, but they never followed up. Even when they wanted to connect, self doubt crept into the process and halted it. This was not an isolated incident, either, as Justine found. A pattern emerged: personal hesitance, busy schedules, and insecurity sabotage even the most obvious and natural connections between like-minded leaders. Phone numbers go into drawers, and emails are archived, and what could be a productive connection is lost.

This is why Justine sees such significance in LaunchPad Leadership’s model for bringing leaders together and providing everything necessary to inspire those connections and cement them. By bringing people from all different backgrounds and sectors and introducing them in small groups to problem solve and connect, LaunchPad compels participants to reach out and follow up with each other. In group sharing sessions, participants unburden themselves of the challenges they faced alone. Brought together in one place, LaunchPad Leadership participants are compelled to break down the barriers to connection and networking that keep them in their own separate worlds. LaunchPad doesn’t exist to give its participants accidental opportunities to connect and plan - it orchestrates those opportunities and overcomes the insecurities and bad habits that sabotage those opportunities.

LaunchPad Leadership helps to create community and realise the leadership qualities that sit quietly behind hesitation and doubt. This is the importance of LaunchPad Leadership for philanthropy in Australia and beyond - inspiring and realising leaders to reach out to each other and rise to the rare and difficult occasion before them.

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